Security is one of the primary reasons people tolerate government in their lives. It is, therefore, a key indicator of a government’s success. When it comes to homeland security, the legislative process and the enforcement of laws are, of course, an essential part of the equation. The criminal justice system is also a key component. All nations need just laws, the just enforcement of those laws, and punitive measures evenly applied to those who violate Laws. The independence and impartiality of the Courts is a strong indicator of how just and functional a government is. It is easy for average citizens to judge the ability of government to provide security based on their views of law enforcement and the legal system, but the penal system is just as important. In fact, the condition of a nation’s prisons is probably an even greater indicator of a government’s quality.
Whether someone is simply a lawbreaker or violent, hardened criminal, how the penal system treats that person is a far greater reflection on those empowered by the criminal justice system than the incarcerated. As prisoners, convicted criminals are removed from society in order to prevent them from hurting other people and reeking havoc. Not only is their presence in a prison supposed to deprive the incarcerated of the opportunity to cause others harm, it makes them thoroughly dependent on their caregivers. In contrast, the ability to truly secure and provide adequate care for these largely helpful criminals determines the success of a penal system. Unfortunately, the US penal system is failing. America’s prison system has long been overtaxed by a continual influx of new prisoners, but zero-tolerance immigration policies and hiring freezes have exasperated the problem.
The need to address prison and sentencing reform is well-known. Like many legislative efforts, political and legislative dysfunction are hindering prison reform efforts. Under the Trump Administration, the strain on those running America’s prisons has only intensified. Not only did the Trump Administration institute a government-wide hiring freeze, which has continued to impact the number of guards in prisons, it cut somewhere around 6,000 positions in 2017 alone. Meanwhile, it is moving to cut around 5,000 unfilled positions, even after Congress approved a budget increase of $106 million, amid an expected prison population increase of two percent and an influx of immigration detainees into the prison system. The consequence has been an increased reliance on the so-called practice of staff “augmentation.” In essence, medical staff, teachers, counselors, secretaries, and cooks are forced to become substitute guards.
Even on the surface, the very notion of augmentation is beyond foolish. Relying on under-trained, inexperienced individuals to play guard is a recipe for disaster. Augmentation literally sounds like the basis of an ill-conceived, B-horror movie. Not only does the practice deprive prisoners of the services and full-attention of non-guard staff members, which can be life-threatening when it comes to healthcare providers, it places prison staff and inmates in dangerous circumstances on a regular basis. Prisons are filled with dangerous people who will hurt others unless they are prevented from doing so. An insufficient number of well-trained, experienced guards makes it far more likely that attacks on guards, substitute guards, and inmates are going to happen. It also makes it harder to stop them. Quite frankly, the willingness to embrace “augmentation” or ignore the need for it is pure negligence.
The US Federal Budget may consider prisons a discretionary line-item, but they are a necessary component of providing a nation and all of the communities within it the security citizens need. Because prisons are not a part of the average American’s daily life, it is easy for them to overlook the condition of the US prison system. Despite an absence of political pressure, however, Congress has been willing to offer most of the funding prisons need. The Trump Administration, in contrast, has decided to simply cut. Finding ways to make prisons run more efficiency and provide more services is commendable and much needed. Cutting positions, especially key positions, with the hope of self-reform is just bad business. It is not the way to solve problems. It is how one creates problems. Ignoring a vital social need and vital function of an organization leads to increased errors and dysfunction. It creates critical inefficiencies. In the case of prisons, inefficiencies represent a security and public safety hazard.
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